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Homeowners, Airport Battle Over Road Extension

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Louan Brown, who lives near the airport Louan Brown, who lives near the airport
Former airport authority board member Bert Mathews Former airport authority board member Bert Mathews

It's a controversial road that no one wants on their property.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation is deciding the path of the proposed Harding Place extension. The battle over where it will go pits homeowners against Nashville International Airport.

But some residents are raising questions about who stands to gain from the road.

"There are 10 cows here, three horses and a donkey," said Louan Brown, who lives near the airport.

Her home and 40-acre farm are surrounded by airport property. Her dad bought it nearly 50 years ago.

"For the first 12 years of my father's death, I walked those fences and sobbed and cried and sobbed and cried.  I loved him more than life, and I love these cows and the farm," she said.

But her property is in the path of a proposed road.  The long-debated Harding Place extension is designed to ease traffic around the airport as it expands.

The old path for the road was on airport property to the Brown's west. But in 2001, TDOT officially changed the plan.

"The interchange will go on top of the house.  It will take house out.  It will take the 40 acres out," Brown said.

The road's path has been debated for more than 20 years.  At a recent public hearing, residents voiced concern about the current proposal.

"I have not one constituent who has told me they want the road where it is. Not one," said Metro Councilman Carl Birch.

TDOT said it changed the road's location because it conflicted with the Airport Authority's long-range plan.  The authority wants to keep its land to build a future runway.

Airport engineer Kinney Baxter said in the public hearing that the airport still needs the land. 

"In the last 20 years airport traffic has doubled.  It's going to double again.  Therefore, we're wanting to reserve the land," Baxter said.

But residents of nearby subdivisions believe there's room for a runway and the road on airport property.

Brown questions whether a former airport authority board member stands to gain from the new road. In the current plan, the road would lead to land owned by Bert Mathews. His company is working with residents to build an office park on 200 acres nearby.

Documents show TDOT initiated studies for new routes at the request of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority in 1997.

Mathews and his father were prominent members of the airport authority board for many years.

Brown questioned Mathews at TDOT's public hearing asking, "Do you not see that as a conflict of interest? You got a road to your development we lose 40 acres and the land my father bought in the 1940's and it takes our house.  Do you not see that as a problem?"

Mathews said it's not a conflict.  Earlier this year, he resigned from the board before his term ended.

"I resigned from the board because of a variety of outside duties that I had," he said.

After the meeting, Mathews indicated he wouldn't mind if the road moved slightly. He has been working with the neighborhood.

"Whether it's here or one hundred yards this way or that I think it will take care of the traffic out of our area," he said.

But TDOT makes the final decision.  And even if the road is moved, Brown's property would be affected.

She's not giving up.

"I keep planting trees if that tells you something.  If you're planting trees you're not planning on leaving any time soon," she said.

TDOT said it will be years before the road is built and the location could change.    

Mathews said his office park will go forward with or without the road. 

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